A woman is sitting in a lounge chair watching TV while her boyfriend does the ironing. The woman's mother arrives, pulls out a bit of paper, turns off the TV and announces: "Shelley, you're fat ...there I've said it."
"Does your mother talk to you like that?" says the woman to her boyfriend.
"Well," he says, "I'm actually not fat so ..."
"I'm not on drugs," says the woman to her mother.
"More's the pity," says her mother. "Janine's daughter is on the P and she's lost 10 kilos - then again she's lost 10 of her teeth."
Now I have a question and it is this: is this exchange, predicated as it is on the size of the daughter, funny?
Certainly we were invited - as we were all the way through the first episode of the new New Zealand sitcom Golden (TV3, Mondays, 7.30pm) - to laugh at the size of Shelley, who we learned is a former Olympic rower and gold medallist who has gone to seed.
We were supposed to laugh when her boyfriend Eliot pulled faces after discovering Shelley trying on her old and now ill-fitting rowing uniform. We were supposed to laugh when a chair broke under her weight. We were supposed to laugh when she was trying to choose a dress, and at the one-liner "it's been a whale ... a while", and when Shelley sat in her old row boat only for it to sink.
We were also asked to laugh at her mother getting the trots from trying the "maple syrup and cayenne pepper diet" as well as the apparent smallness of Shelley's former trainer (and ex-boyfriend) Paul's willy.
Now far be it for me to say that people who are fat should not be the subject of comedy, just as people who are skinny (like me) should not made fun of, but I mean really, gags about fatties, small knobs and having the runs?! It was like watching Benny Hill by way of Are You Being Served? by way of On the Buses ...
In the end I found Golden, which was given $1.2 million by New Zealand on Air, more of a mystery than a comedy.
For sometime after watching it I sat in my own lounge chair trying to figure out whether it was a deliberately old-fashioned sitcom done without irony or a deliberately old-fashioned sitcom done with irony or whether, like the comedy-within-a-comedy of When the Whistle Blows in Ricky Gervais' Extras, it had begun life as a cutting-edge comedy but had been butchered by the network and its producers. In the end, I figured it didn't really matter: Golden is only funny if you enjoy relentless and relentlessly groan-making cheap shots at someone who is overweight.
Mind you a big part of the mystery is that Shelley is played by Lucy Schmidt, who is a co-writer of Golden too. So I also sat wondering whether if I happened to see Lucy in the street sometime in the future whether she would be okay with me yelling out to her (using a line from the show) "you don't look like Lucy Schmidt, you look like you ate Lucy Schmidt!" and whether she would laugh or punch me in the face. And then I started wondering if it's only okay for fat people to make jokes about fat people but not alright for skinny people to make jokes about fat people ... then I stopped wondering, and retired defeated.
TV3 has put Golden in the 7pm slot on Sundays, a prime piece of property as it's straight after its 6pm news and before 60 Minutes.
This suggests the network thinks Golden is golden. I would beg to differ.